Just because Woodrow Wilson has left the Mountain State Athletic Conference doesn’t mean you won’t see the Flying Eagles gracing basketball courts or football fields in the Kanawha Valley in coming years.
Woodrow, which departed the Class AAA league following spring sports, had been a fixture in the MSAC since the fall of 2004, when it joined along with Greenbrier East and Princeton to swell the conference membership to 15 schools. With the Flying Eagles gone, the league is now down to 10 schools heading into football season.
Even though Woodrow Wilson is no longer in the league, it doesn’t mean it won’t still play around the area. The Flying Eagles have football games scheduled this season with George Washington, Huntington, Riverside and South Charleston. In boys basketball, undoubtedly Woodrow’s best-known sport, it will meet GW twice this winter and play once against Capital and SC.
“We want to continue to play those games,’’ said J.T. Payne, Woodrow’s athletic director. “Those are good games in a lot of sports, and those games are still happening.’’
Woodrow left the MSAC on good terms by going through the proper channels, giving the league the required amount of notice so other league members had time to adjust their schedules. When Princeton departed early in 2015, it did not give proper notice, and was hit with a four-year scheduling “death penalty,’’ which meant it could not schedule other MSAC schools for regular-season games. Greenbrier East left in the spring of 2012.
“They did it the way you’re supposed to do it, and we really appreciate them for that,’’ MSAC commissioner Jim Hamric said of Woodrow Wilson’s planned exit. “Heck, we hated losing them and being around those guys. Their principal [Rocky Powell] and athletic director are really people persons and we love them to death. We hate to see them go. They’ve been great members.’’
Payne said the decision to leave came about for a number of reasons, and wasn’t simply because the football program had fallen on hard times, going 9-41 over the previous five seasons.
“I would say it’s a combination of things,’’ Payne said. “There are some schools in southern West Virginia — Princeton and Oak Hill, which is back in triple-A — we’re trying to renew those local rivalries, and we have been playing Greenbrier East. Shady Spring is a pretty good-sized school and I know Bluefield’s double-A, but they’re as good as triple-A in a lot of sports. Those are games people in southern West Virginia want to see, and they’re longtime traditional rivals. It was more of a scheduling thing.
“Nothing negative toward the conference whatsoever. They’ve been great to us, and we’d still like to play some of those teams, and we’ve developed some great rivalries. When it comes to [football] and stuff like that, it was totally a school decision. The previous administration [AD Tim Carrico, Principal Ron Cantley] made the decision [prior] to me and [Powell] coming on board. They’ve discussed it for a couple years. It was more of a school decision than any individual sport.’’
Football is about the only athletic schedule that’s been released for fall or winter sports, and the Flying Eagles have dropped Cabell Midland, Capital, Hurricane and Parkersburg and picked up games with Morgantown, Oak Hill, Parkersburg South and Princeton. Teams in the MSAC are mandated to play at least eight conference football games per season.
“They wanted to play Princeton and Bluefield every year in all sports,’’ Hamric said, “and probably some others where they had rivalries in the south, and that made it real hard on them because they weren’t able to. It hurt them.’’
Payne agreed with that assessment.
“We’re excited to play Oak Hill, Princeton, Greenbrier East,’’ he said. “I’m not going to deny that. The number of triple-A’s in the southern part of the state, south of Charleston, have dwindled.
“But there’s more work involved [in scheduling] now because you’ve got to make those one-on-one calls that normally would take care of themselves in the conference because you knew you were playing those schools. It was predetermined. So now it’s a little more work on our part touching base with those other schools.’’
Woodrow didn’t win many championships during its time in the MSAC. In fact, in the four highest-profile sports — football, boys and girls basketball and baseball — there were just two conference titles, both in boys basketball (2013, 2019). Boys basketball also captured the AAA state crown in 2008 and was state runner-up three years later. The program’s 2004 state title came just before it joined the MSAC.
However, the Flying Eagles were often competitive across the board in AAA. The girls basketball team was poised to play in the state tournament semifinals in March before the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports statewide. The football team went 9-1 in 2005 and earned the No. 4 playoff seed, but was edged by Nitro for the league title. Baseball finished as state runner-up in 2007 and boys soccer took a state championship in 2010.
And Woodrow won’t be a stranger to many Kanawha Valley schools as it continues to make forays up Interstates 77 and 64 even as it begins life as a Class AAA independent.
“As a whole, I think we did it the right way,’’ Payne said. “We left on good terms. We can keep those relationships and play those games.’’